The Rapids have played 4 games against California teams in the span of two weeks. In total, the Rapids claimed 7 points out of a possible 12: two wins, a draw, and a loss. In those two weeks the Rapids played some of their best football that had been yet to be seen under gaffer Anthony Hudson. There is still, however, a lot of work to be done and a lot of problems this group is facing. The team need to have more creativity in the attacking third. Their first home game against the Galaxy, which they won 2-1, was some of the most dominating and impressive football we’ve seen at Dick Sporting Goods Park. The other 3 games weren’t as dominant but were still better than what was being played during our 9-game losing streak. This analysis will hopefully shed some light on what the Rapids need and will serve as a sort of prologue for my next article as I will be taking a look at who the Rapids can bring in during the offseason to help fix these problems.
We’ll start with the Galaxy game as that was my favorite after taking a look at the stats. Sure, the Galaxy were without Zlatan, but they had plenty of star power to beat Colorado. Let’s start with some feel-good stats. The Rapids outshot the Galaxy 14 shots to 8, had an 85% pass success rate to their 72%, and out-possessed them 59% to 41%. A fantastic display of soccer! What really stood out was that the Rapids had more key passes and dribbles. This resulted in a much more creative attack when compared to that of the Galaxy. There were however two problems I had with this match. The first was the Tommy Smith and Kortne Ford mess up that resulted in a goal for the Galaxy. Mistakes like that show that this team can still leak some pretty bad goals. The second was the fact that this game could have easily been 3-1 or even 4-1. The finishing should have been better and the Rapids need to take advantage of their chances.
The next game in this Californian stretch was against the San Jose Earthquakes. I figured that if the Rapids could dominate the Galaxy the way they did the week prior then they could easily host the Earthquakes and beat them comfortably. This was not the case. The team had plenty of shots with 16, but so did they at 15. The boys in burgundy won the possession game 58% to 42%, which is really good. This shows that Colorado can control and dictate a game. What the Rapids can’t seem to do is find out how they want the game to go. They can control the game and pass between their diamond midfield but when it comes to creating chances and going into the final third the wheels just fall off the bus. Against the Galaxy, the Rapids finished with a whopping 10 dribbles and 10 key passes. In this game however, the Rapids couldn’t reach that creative attacking form. They finished with 5 dribbles and 11 key passes, but San Jose were much more creative with 13 dribbles, and 14 key passes. Had Vako (who had 4 of the key dribbles) hadn’t been so selfish with the ball and finished his chances, the Rapids could’ve easily dropped points to the worst team in the Western Conference. Also of note, Nana Boateng had his best game in burgundy, so that was cool.
The Pids had little time to recover from that San Jose game as they went to Carson, California in a midweek matchup to try and repeat the game they had at home against the Galaxy. They finished 2-2 and split the points. What I liked seeing in this game was whenever the Rapids were dispossessed, the players would all put high amounts of pressure on the ball carrier. They efficiently won the ball back in the middle of the pitch and have shown that they are a team that wants the ball and can actually play a possessive style football. Also an important note, the Rapids were able to successfully shut down Ibrahimovic. He had 5 shots, 1 on target, a total of 2 key passes, 44 touches, and left with a very very poor 61.5% pass accuracy. The only good aspect of Zlatan’s game was the amount of aerial duels won(6). But when you’re 6’5 and there’s no Axel Sjoberg to battle, you have to win almost every aerial duel. Against San Jose, the Rapids had more key passes but less dribbles. In this game, the Rapids had more dribbles but less key passes. This was the first game where we saw Dillon Serna playing in the center attacking midfield position. Jack McBean finished with more key passes than Serna did; Blomberg finished with more passes as well as being more accurate. Kortne Ford even finished with more crosses than Serna. Based on stats, Serna, in my opinion, just doesn’t seem to fit that position. The Rapids also out dribbled the Galaxy 12 dribbles to 8. However the Galaxy were much better at stringing together that last pass that sets up the attack more effectively. I’d say the Rapids were lucky to come away from this one with a point.
Now, the final game in the California series. The toughest challenge here was to see how the diamond would fair against a team like LAFC. Colorado took on a team that they could play to in the LA Galaxy and a team they could easily beat like San Jose… but now it was time to test how this system would fair against a side like LAFC who are well above the skill and talent level that the Rapids have. Overall, it was fairly amusing at how well they were able to hang in there. Feels wrong to say but the stats don’t lie: the Rapids out-possessed LAFC 51% to 49%. Colorado also had more key passes but they were squandered by various mistakes and poor finishing. The Rapids also lost their ability to control the game. They attacked through the flanks and created long ball situations more than creating through the middle and through Dillon Serna. Again, Serna did not have the best of games in the CAM position and struggled as he claimed 1 dribble and 1 key pass. This is not where Serna should be playing and if he continues to play the CAM position the attack will suffer. If the Rapids had someone like a Nicolas Lodeiro playing that #10 position, this becomes a winnable game. LAFC wouldn’t be able to come back from that due to the fact that they play with no true center defensive midfield. The Rapids would go on to lose 2-0 after brilliant goals that could have happened to any team in the league. LAFC is just that explosive.
So, what did we learn from these 4 games under a new diamond formation? The Rapids cannot dictate how play will happen in the final third. Having Martinez play at the #10 spot was really good to see and having Serna there was not so good. I love watching Serna play, I will always start a Dillon Serna chant whenever he subs on, but him playing as our center attacking mid is not going to help out the team. Hopefully coach sees this and tries to find the best spot that he can play. We also learned that Boateng is a really good midfielder to have next to Acosta. It was strange to see Blomberg get the start over him and I wasn’t too impressed with how he played. I’d like to see Boateng get more starts in that position and see what he can do to combine with Acosta and Price. Speaking of Price, he is everything that the 2016 midfield core of Michael Azira and Sam Cronin were: defensive grit with the ability to pass. Jack Price finished each game with the most touches of any player in the whole game. The midfielders in front of him really look to him when they need to relieve some pressure and when they’re being forced to turnover the ball. He is a great asset to have. However, he still is a yellow card magnet and if he misses games due to yellow card accumulation – or worse, due to injury- this whole diamond formation is destined to crumble. Finding a backup (maybe Sam Hamilton?) will be crucial this offseason. So, there is my analysis. Rejoice Rapids fans, this system is a really good system and according to many MLS pundits, we are “fun to watch”.